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I’m finally rested up enough to write about my trip to Noise FeSTL 2007, at the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center, in St. Louis. First off– it was killer. Between incredible sets, cheap merch, good-sized audiences, and Lemp’s notoriously delicious food; it was a noise fan’s dream.
As usual, the folks at Lemp had really gone all out– more than 40 acts, spread over 3 days, with an impromptu composition workshop thrown in for good measure. Aside from the obvious value for audience members, Noise FeSTL was a great tool for bringing together some of the best and most active Midwestern noisers as a community… a valuable opportunity that can often be overlooked.
Between my long-standing love of “difficult listening,” and the ability to meet a bunch of new (to me) artists, attending was a no-brainer. I was particularly looking forward to seeing Is, Being, Ghost Ice, and Muguguymen, having heard many good things about them previously.
I arrived Friday evening around 7:30, and purchased my weekend pass. Almost immediately, I was greeted by Charlie J. Moneybags, who I had met just a few months previously at the Zelienople/Epicycle show.
“He’s got a better way with names than I do,” I thought, not realizing how many times I’d have to put “hey man” and “buddy” to use while struggling to assimilate a ridiculous amount of names, projects, and aliases during the weekend. The fellows from Teeth Collection nearly gave me a heart attack on this end; with a smorgasbord of solo and duo projects combining a core of three people in what seemed like 15 ways. Topping it off was Eli’s use of a Money Mark CD case to house the cdrs, haha.
“Oh well,” I thought, “that’s why I have the internet, for sorting these things out later.”
Luckily, I didn’t apply this defeatist strategy to everything. Early on, I wrangled a copy of the much-coveted program guide, which became less like a guide and more like a Bible. My little printed Virgil never left my back pocket for the weekend, save the times I used it to make some notation– set order, nicknames, e-mails, silent questions to a fellow listener during a performance– if you missed meeting me, just try to remember the guy asking “who was that?” while holding a little brown scrap of papers.
That was me.
Of course, I took a fair number of questions about whether I was “rating” the performances, due to my habit of making a number by the act name to denote set order. Rating the performances wasn’t my bag then, and I’m not going to get into it now– I’m going to mention some of the standout moments for me, but your mileage may differ.
Besides; the striking variety of different approaches, techniques, and uses of noise makes comparison among performers nearly pointless. I was surprised to see so many different attitudes and philosophies about noise art in evidence, a fact I should have had the foresight to discuss at the time.
So what were some of these highlights, you ask? On the first night, there were many, and again– all of them so very unique. Caves kicked things off for me, with a touchingly well-thought out set full of dynamic and precision. I was very happy to see someone so familiar with their instruments, even if they are “just” mixers, pedals, and theremin.
Although I certainly appreciate the raw work of someone like Rubbish or Secret Abuse, I am also excited to see artists such as Caves point the way to something new– like going back into the roots of rock, and planting a seed among them, something very intriguing can happen here.
Drenches’ set was another fantastic moment for me, despite the fact that I only got two terrible photos of him performing. I’m pretty sure my camera operating hand was busy keeping my mouth from falling open, as wave after wave of tidal noise rushed past me. “What a perfectly appropriate name,” I thought.
Directly thereafter, Jim Heggarty laid the foundation for Ghost Ice’s set of the next evening, with a series of nonsensical statements from Q to 17. During Heggarty’s set, I found my mind drifting into an internal questioning about the nature of performance when so many sounds were available, and the increasing necessity of artists who understand the physical nature of sound, a phenomenon which became more and more clear as Noise FeSTL transpired.
Charlie J. Moneybags’ performance was another breakthrough, but not for me– for Charlie himself. Although I won’t claim to know Charlie terribly well, I do think I got to understand him a bit better over the weekend. If Caves’ set was about burrowing inward (and New Pledgemaster‘s as well, albeit by completely different means), than Charlie’s was the opposite– taking the inner, and heaving it outward.
Bent nearly double over his equipment, (he’s a tall guy, and a loomer) Moneybag’s voice ricocheted through vocoder in a cathartic howl previously unknown outside the realm of feral children and wounded minotaurs. Most incredible, though, was the audience reception– Charlie, spent of energy, being embraced by his peers– “you did it, man, that was amazing…”
I gotta give Pete (Raperies) a little mention here. For all his bluster, he’s really a supportive guy who appears to care deeply about other noisers, and was often the first to congratulate someone on a good set. Perhaps more importantly, he contributed a great deal to the general energy level of practically every set, exhorting performers to give a bit more.
Following this set, there was no option but to follow Charlie’s lead. The final barriers between audience and performer, inner and outer, self and sound– all must be annihilated in the remaining moments. They would, after all, be resurrected the next day… but for now, Being had been elected to tear it all down, and to remind us of the blank slate just underneath preconception. Halfway into Being’s set, the audience saw it, creating one of those rare moments of instant action, limitless energy, and shared consciousness. Naturally, my photography also improved, as you can see:
Saturday morning found me nursing a bit of a sore knee, most likely due to laying wrong in my sleeping bag. I woke up early enough to help New Pledgemaster in a fruitless search for his keys and shoes, which happily turned up later in the day. With a half-dozen sleepy noisers laying about, and me locked in the Lemp compound, I decided to retreat to the office area to see about charging my phone. It was not long before Karthik Kakarala joined me, and we traded stories about good food, the proper brewing of Chinese tea, and our respective travels. Being a new Carbondale resident, I naturally invited him to drop by my radio show anytime– we rural oddmusic folks have to stick together.
Following a surprisingly good oatmeal-and-apple breakfast; I went with Lemp owner Mark, Mavis, and Holly to visit the Soulard Farmer’s Market, which was quite unlike any farmer’s market I have yet to see. Now I need one of these in my town, sigh. With ingredients for lunch and din-din quickly acquired, and at least one potential mascot for Mavis’ “DJ Thumper” project failing to make the cut, we made our way back to Lemp.
Fast-forward to the evening sets. Surely these interest you more than my quick trip to the gas station for Coke, or Mark’s composition workshop free-for-all, which you sorta had to be there for… In short, Beethoven was a cooler dude than even Bill and Ted made him seem. “Slippery When Wet,” however, is still lame.
Moving forward… Druids of Huge somehow gathered the fallout energy from the previous night’s sets, and reworked it into a series of rhythmic blasts that would periodically be reworked throughout Saturday’s performances. Although my preference is to move away from overt rhythm in noise, I definitely enjoyed Druids take on noise thoroughly, and came away with one of their self-titled cassettes on Arbor.
This Is My Condition (appearing here with saxophonist Dan Kozak) saw Druids’ ten and raised them twenty, with a tumultuous and bold set including Kozak’s inspired free blowing and Craig whacking out proto-Muguguymen beats with drumsticks on an abused guitar and soon-to-be matching drums.
Now we pause for a moment. I have to explain some things. I’ve been looking for Ghost Ice recordings now for quite some time. As a former reporter, an online fanatic, and obsessive DJ, it is extremely rare for me NOT to find a recording of something I want to hear. Given the buzz I’d heard about Ghost Ice during this time, I’d never considered that my first time hearing him would be months and months later, and in-person to boot.
So you’ll understand that I was pretty frakkin’ geared up to see him by the time his set rolled around– even more than the time I somehow became convinced that Ratt was going to play my second-grade school assembly.”You’ve seen this guy before, so move over,” I said, shoving Karthik’s tall self out of my way, and ogling Ghost Ice’s intriguing gear. “I gotta see this.”
Other, shorter folks had to see it too, trying not to fall in a box of Noise FeSTL t-shirts as they approached the area. With Villa Valley, Drenches, and half of Worm Hands standing behind like a noiser version of the S1W’s; Ghost Ice gasped and shuddered out exactly what I’ve always wanted noise to be. Wild pans, transient and unpredictable shards of sound, super low-end rumblings… combined with Ghost Ice’s amazing ability to draw from some unfathomable reserve of increasing energy, slowly ramping the volume higher at key moments.
Earlier, during Being’s set, I had wanted to touch the sound– not just have it fluttering in my stomach, but to really feel it’s shape with my palms. During Ghost Ice’s performance, I got to for the first time all weekend, crest and trough working their way past my fingers while alien insect calls flew about the room. Wonderful!I spoke with Jeremy later, who was a little unsure what to do with all the praise I heaped on him, so hopefully he doesn’t think I’m nuts or anything– just very happy to see nearby St. Louis be home of such incredible work.
I was still more than a little in a state of shock through Secret Abuse, Drip House, and God Willing’s sets, only faintly registering the sheet metal flailing less than a foot from where I stood. It wasn’t until Is that I arrived from the tunnel of my thoughts. Is was (wow, never thought I’d be able to type THAT) one of the people I’d come to see.
Is did not disappoint, either, presenting an intense wall of noise literally welling from within him. I loved the musical ellipsis as well, with the turntable temporarily taking a “solo,” scratching at record’s end before Is lifted everything back up to ground level in a final rally of emotion.
Unfortunately, by Brain Transplant‘s set, I was spent. My personal view on noise is that it not only can be cathartic, but soothing as well, as it eradicates the burdensome sense of self we carry throughout the day. At it’s best, noise demands that listeners give up hope of compass or direction, but instead allow themselves to be buffeted as cork in the ocean. My choice was to pop a squat for much of BT’s performance, and simply enjoy Dave Stone’s clarinet ecstasies hopping around my ears.
You would think, then, that Saturday concludes with me falling off into slumber. No, I got tapped to learn new computer software. Yeah, really. As it turns out, Jack wouldn’t be able to continue manning the junior Kennedy Space Center he had set up in a corner for the purposes of archiving the Fest. For whatever reason, this task fell to me, and I was fool enough to accept. Thus began a crash course in the absolute bare-bones fundamentals of operating the beast known as Cakewalk Sonar, surely a program authored by demonic entities whose only nod to user-friendliness is in the sneering name.
“I’m called Cakewalk,” it teases in a catty voice. “You must be a big dummy. Meow.”
Regardless, I was pretty sure I had it down by sleepy-time. 9 a.m. would find me in a different state of mind, frantically waking up to make sure I remembered where the hell “hardware/sliders/input” was located before Jack could leave for triangle duty in the orchestra. But hey, I DID have it figured out, so I gave a big thumbs-up to Jack as he trundled off to be Respighi’s go-to triangle man for the morning.
Being assured; I got my recording template opened, sent out a couple e-mails, and wandered off to see what was going on. I ended up chopping a bunch of veggies for lunch, taking a self-guided tour of Mark’s building, and discussing rock’s long creative downward slide as record labels’ muscle grew during the 1970’s. I ended up hanging out in the courtyard between the two buildings; discussing Nut Screamer, the effect of filesharing on listening habits, and the old “who is in what band” conversation that inevitably happens around music fans.
I managed to do pretty well recording the next four sets; Ataraxic Ataxia, Slow Owls, Turner Williams, and Vivi C. Diem— although somewhat at the expense of actually seeing them play, haha. Still, I bopped up quickly, and snapped a few photos in between watching their respective waveforms grow and change.
Slow Owls had the most interesting waveforms of the bunch I recorded, creating more of a slow pulse shape than I might have perceived without the help of the computer. Vivi C. Diem surprised me a bit, sending out some unanticipated levels surpassing those from soundcheck, and briefly pegging everything into the red. Whoops! Ataraxic Ataxia sent a lot of unique stereo shapes about the room, probably some sort of after-effect of the violin, which is designed for projection…
On a side note, there were a lot more guitars at Noise FeSTL than I would have suspected. Worm Hands member Josh sported a bass; Karthik played two at once; Treetops, Drip House, and God Willing slung one on; and even Villa Valley had a few strings on his otherwise-mutilated axe. Are electric guitars so ubiquitous that they’re just easy targets as sound sources, or are they a hold-over from someone’s earlier band? I had to wonder at it, because they’re certainly not as easy to cart around as the nearly-infinite oddities I saw emerge from flight cases and luggage.
But I digress… By the time 3:30 rolled around, Jack must have been as nervous as I was; making it back shortly before Muguguymen, which was fine by me. I’d been wanting to get a dose of their Afro-noise Beat for some time, but the State Department couldn’t clear me to travel into Nigeria, due to some money transfers I’d done for the late President Odogwu’s son, now in exile.
Muguguymen killed; sucking all the available rhythm from the room, and channeling it through the drummer, who took powerful drumstick swings at his partner as he repositioned contact mics about the kit. Although I took many photos, my camera failed mysteriously. Instead, I found 419 snapshots of Joseph Conrad clutching rooster feathers, a powerful mojo which I promptly deleted.
Following Muguguymen was 1/3 of Porcelain Dorsal Fin, which begged the question: “what the hell happens if he adds two more people?!” As the set proceeded, it became clear that they’re probably just paid to carry him off to the nearest clinic after he screams his guts out. For all the folks who had bled raw emotion into a mic, I think he was the only one I physically worried about– neck veins popping out, top of his head turning red… it was a performance and a heart attack all at once, and the perfect time for me to call it quits, as I needed to get back home.
Hopefully we all have our own connection to the sounds we listen to; regardless of whether we know them as music, nature, sound, or noise. For me, noise continues past the borders of any venue, whether it fills my skull with a passing train’s immediate airhorn blast, or penetrates deep into the crevices between real and imagined perception.
It is the most paradoxical of all listening forms– defined as “unwanted,” yet actively sought out by an eager coterie of thoughtful individuals; meaningless, yet ripe for emotional interpretation. Even the action of noise is a paradox. It is confrontational, but ultimately numbing; omnipresent and foreign simultaneously. Upon approach, noise retreats into something unexaminable… upon retreat, it quickly surges forward to overwhelm our senses.
Heading home, the Poplar Street Bridge played for me… “Keep your ears open!”